By Jack Rubinger

At Reed College, concerns about Oregon OSHA’s top workplace safety hazards are being addressed pro-actively. These include injuries from trips and falls, chemical spills, physical and mental fatigue on the job, toppling and falling objects, and repetitive motion injuries.

While workplace safety is getting more and more play these days as it relates to COVID-19, many hazardous situations occur year after year and should always be on the radar of the Portland community.

There are about 75 Oregon OSHA field enforcement inspectors who work out of field offices across the state. The frequency of inspections varies. From 2015 to 2019, about 3,000 inspections were conducted each year. These cover the construction, agriculture, forestry industries and general occupational safety and health for other industries, e.g. breweries and universities.

Inspectors field complaints, provide evaluations and confidential on-site inspections, either on their own initiative or based on calls from whistleblowers. Inspections are always random and fines can range from $100 to more than $120,000 depending on the severity and seriousness of the violation.

Reed College implements a variety of measures for trip and fall prevention. They have an active and engaged safety committee on campus that is charged with identifying workplace safety hazards and implementing corrective action. This committee performs quarterly building and grounds walks to identify hazards.

Some of the corrective measures Reed implements are traction tape on stairs, removal of environmental hazards such as ice and moss build up, adding visibility strips in hard-to-see locations and increased lighting in dark spots.

Reed has a program where workers are trained annually on fall prevention measures. All employees go through new employee safety training where they are informed of trip and fall potentials and how to eliminate them in the workplace.

Small, incidental spills in the workplace are cleaned up by the individual doing the task. Each person working with chemicals in the workplace is trained on proper chemical handling, spill prevention and cleanup procedures.

If the spill becomes too large for one person to easily handle (or the properties of the chemical spill are of a higher hazard degree), the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) staff, which has a higher level of training and personal protective equipment to handle such spills, performs the task.

If for some reason the spill is classified as a major spill by the EHS staff, Reed staff would call local hazmat to assist with proper spill cleanup.

If a spill were to occur in waterways (Canyon, Crystal Springs) staff members would immediately initiate spill response measures and report it to the Department of Environmental Quality or Environmental Protection Agency.

Because physical and mental fatigue on the job is an ongoing concern for Oregon OSHA, Reed offers free ergonomic consultations and office equipment procurement. All staff are trained on preventative measures to reduce mental and physical fatigue, such as taking breaks often and varying work tasks.

The facilities crew is offered free morning yoga before the work shift begins. Reed has an active wellness committee that implements various physical and mental activities offered to the community either free or for a small fee.

Repetitive motion injuries are always on the radar with Oregon OSHA. Reed trains everyone about repetitive motion potentials and how to reduce their potential by taking breaks often and stretching.

Local safety consultant Jeremy Norton runs Affordable Safety Training, LLC and says that the best way to prevent falls from heights is to use engineering controls to eliminate the hazard and installing guardrails on exposed edges. He believes fall harnesses and similar protection systems should only be used when the hazard itself cannot be eliminated.

Oregon’s Hazard Communication laws require employers to maintain an active inventory of all chemicals on site. Norton suggested performing a regular inventory examination of chemical containers. He suggests buying chemicals in small amounts, just enough for the job being performed, as bulk storage of chemicals can cause spills and fires.

Norton asks his customers these questions:

• Is there a brown rust ring around the bottom of the container?

• Is the top of the container crusted over from dried chemicals? If so, if it hasn’t been used in a while, it may not be needed onsite.

He believes toppling and falling object hazards usually result from poor planning and recommends using storage containers and racking devices to ensure stability.

Many believe the best method for dealing with repetitive motion injuries is to eliminate the hazard via automation of engineer controls. Specially designed equipment, like ergonomic keyboards, can also minimize repetitive motion hazards.

“Employers need to implement an effective formal safety training program. One training event is not enough,” said Norton.

“Safety refreshers and reminders need to be integrated into every aspect of the business,” he added. “This includes work procedures, work briefings, executive meetings and employee evaluations.”

Visit osha.oregon.gov for additional information about workplace safety.

Photo of fire extinguisher training by Reed College